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Stopping A ‘Wisconsin Moment’ in Connecticut

by Michael Byrne  |  October 21, 2014

Stopping A ‘Wisconsin Moment’ in Connecticut AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders (far right) leans in to talk with AFSCME members coming in for a shift change at the Bridgeport, Conn., water treatment plant.

“How ya’ll doing?” AFSCME President Lee Saunders asked as he  walked into the Bridgeport, Conn., water treatment plant garage where workers were coming in on a shift change.

Saunders was there to talk to members about “the most important election in your lifetime.” Earlier, at the other end of the city, he met with four groups of lunching state social service case workers and clericals from Council 4 bargaining units totaling more than 1,100 members, discussing the danger to their jobs and bargaining rights if they allowed a rich extremist to deliver on his promise to bring a “Wisconsin moment” to Connecticut.

“You know what a ‘Wisconsin Moment’ means?” he asked a group of West Haven, Conn., municipal and board of education workers later that day. “It means we are stripped of our voice and our rights. That’s what [Republican gubernatorial candidate] Tom Foley wants to deliver here in Connecticut.” Foley is running against incumbent Dan Malloy. Nodding in agreement was West Haven Mayor Ed O’Brien, the son of a former West Haven police officer and member of AFSCME Council 15, who was on hand to thank the municipal employees and their union for working with him to reach a fair collective bargaining agreement.

It was the public safety officers of AFSCME Council 15 and their affiliate, AFSCME Local 724, who sponsored the raucous rally in New London the day before. Surrounded by labor leaders, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio of New London declared that his city was a “union town,” a fact on display all along a downtown intersection – signs from AFSCME, the UAW, Fire Fighters, Iron Workers, Carpenters, SEIU, the Teamsters, American Federation of Teachers and the Amalgamated Transit Union, among others.

Saunders looked out upon the horde of labor supporters and declared, “The rights we have didn’t fall from the sky. We got them because we fought for them! And we have to fight to keep them.”

At every stop, Saunders reminded workers that they have the power. This election is in our hands. If we turn out the vote of people who share our values, who want to preserve the middle class, who care about quality public services, then we will win. “Bad things happen when good people stay away from the polls,” he said.

At the water treatment plant in Bridgeport, where the workers had struggled for several years to finally win a good contract with an English company trying to maximize its profit at the city’s water waste treatment facility, Saunders was blunt.

“Whether we keep our rights and our jobs comes down to whether we have political leaders who care about us and our jobs,” he said. “We know that with Tom Foley, we may be cut out entirely – just like we were in Wisconsin. We can’t afford to allow that to happen in Connecticut. We have to talk to our friends, our families, people we know care about working families. Those one-on-one conversations will make the difference.”

The next day, Saunders helped kick off a “Labor Walk” at the Teachers’ union hall in Meriden, Conn. , sponsored by the AFL-CIO. Then, after the whirlwind tour to rally the troops in Connecticut, Saunders was off to Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida and other states where labor may tip the balance. Three weeks to go, so much work to do. As he told Council 4 members at every stop, “We’ve got to be prepared to work this election as if the future truly depends on it. Because, sisters and brothers, it does.”

AFSCME Stands with Wal-Mart Workers Who Demand a Living Wage

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  October 21, 2014

AFSCME Stands with Wal-Mart Workers Who Demand a Living Wage Wal-Mart workers and their allies, including AFSCME, rallied in Washington, D.C., demanding $15 an hour and full-time hours.

With $473 billion in worldwide sales just last year, you would think that Wal-Mart could pony up a living wage to its employees. But its 1.3 million employees in the United States are scraping by on poverty wages with no benefits and irregular hours, even as the six members of the Walton family are worth $145 billion from Wal-Mart profits. 

That’s why Wal-Mart workers and their allies, including AFSCME, marched to the offices of the Walton Family Foundation in New York City and Washington, D.C., Oct. 16. They had a simple request for the Walton family: $15 an hour and full-time hours.

“We must send the message that we refuse to live in a low-wage part-time economy driven by the Waltons’ profits,” D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton told the crowd.

Marchers shut down traffic in front of the offices, but the foundation refused to meet and hear their demands. The Walton Family Foundation is an organization established to create the appearance that the Wal-Mart founders are charitable with their wealth. But Forbes magazine describes the charity as a form of tax dodge. It spends most of its money on education “reform” designed to replace our schools and teachers with corporate charters.

Wal-Mart’s wealthy bosses could do a whole lot more if they chose to share the company’s profits with the people who work to make it happen. Those workers desperately need a living wage and stable schedules that allow them to spend time with their families. 

Unfortunately, Wal-Mart’s inhumane employment practices set the pattern for other employers. That’s why unions are working to change Wal-Mart, to help working families.

Walker: Minimum Wage Serves No Purpose

by Dave Kreisman  |  October 16, 2014

Walker: Minimum Wage Serves No Purpose “Well, I’m not going to repeal it, but I don’t think it serves a purpose,” Gov. Scott Walker said of the minimum wage during a meeting with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel editorial board.

MADISON, Wis. – After avoiding the question in his first debate with Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke, Gov. Scott Walker finally offered an answer during a live broadcast of his sit-down with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“What is your position on the minimum wage?” asked columnist Dan Bice. “Should we have it?”

“Well, I’m not going to repeal it, but I don’t think it serves a purpose,” Walker responded.

While the facts paint a clear picture that raising the minimum wage would boost earnings for 16 million people and bring 900,000 Americans out of poverty, Walker once again stands against middle-class values and on the wrong side of history.

According to a poll conducted by the Marquette University Law School, 59 percent of Wisconsinites support increasing the minimum wage.

Walker’s latest flub comes only days after his first debate with challenger Mary Burke during which, when asked about Wisconsin’s lack of job growth compared to the rest of the Midwest, Walker responded that the state “doesn’t have a jobs problem, we have a work problem.”

Agree to disagree, Governor.  You might think sitting last in the Midwest for job growth is acceptable, but to the people of Wisconsin, last in the Midwest and 35th in the nation isn’t cutting it.

Court Backs Voting Rights in Wisconsin

by Clyde Weiss  |  October 16, 2014

Court Backs Voting Rights in Wisconsin Two court decisions, one by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case involving Gov. Walker’s 2011 voter suppression law, and another case in Texas, slapped down efforts by lawmakers to limit who can vote in those states.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a case involving Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011 voter suppression law, slapped down efforts by lawmakers to limit who can vote. 

Governor Walker’s 2011 law was designed to ensure his own re-election, and the election of other anti-worker candidates by restricting the turnout of groups of voters less likely to vote for them, especially minorities and young people, who cannot provide certain types of identification.

A congressional study of voter ID laws, issued last week, compared voter ID laws in Kansas and Tennessee to four states that lacked those restrictions and concluded that such laws reduced voter turnout by as much as 3 percent. 

“GAO’s analysis suggests that the turnout decreases in Kansas and Tennessee beyond decreases in the comparison states were attributable to changes in those two states’ voter ID requirements,” the report said.

Extremist lawmakers like Governor Walker argue that such laws are aimed at preventing voter fraud, but there is little evidence of voter fraud in Wisconsin or nationwide. U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman concluded this April that “virtually no voter impersonation occurs in Wisconsin. The defendants could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past,” or was likely to “become a problem at any time in the foreseeable future.”

Judge Adelman ruled at that time that Governor Walker’s voting restrictions violated both the equal-protection clause of the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. The 6-3 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Adelman’s ruling, effectively blocking the law.

The Wisconsin ruling came on the same day that a federal judge in Texas struck down that state’s restrictive voter ID law as unconstitutional. U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales-Ramos wrote that those legislators who pushed the law “were motivated, at the very least in part, because of and not merely in spite of the voter ID law’s detrimental effects on the African-American and Hispanic electorate.”

Unfortunately, a federal appeals court reinstated the Texas voter-ID law for the November election. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit did not rule on the law’s merits, so there is still hope that, eventually, it will be overturned as the case moves up the legal ladder.

Unions Make Sense for New Orleans Tourism Industry

by Helen Cox  |  October 16, 2014

Unions Make Sense for New Orleans Tourism Industry “Just like us cab drivers, hotel and food service workers help keep New Orleans’ tourism industry up and running,” said Delores Montgomery, president of AFSCME Local 234.

NEW ORLEANS – In a historic win for New Orleans hospitality workers, 900 Harrah’s Hotel and Casino employees are now in contract negotiations after winning the right to organize with UNITE HERE and the Teamsters through successful card-check campaigns.

It was also a win for union conventioneers, since previously the only other unionized hotel in New Orleans was the Loews Hotel. The addition of Harrah’s workers doubled the city’s hospitality industry union membership. Still, there are more than 70,000 New Orleanians employed in the industry.  

In 2013, more than 9 million visitors came to New Orleans, spending $6 billion in the process. With the addition of a new unionized hotel, revenues are likely to increase with additional union functions, AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders pointed out in a letter this summer to the president of Hilton International, whose Riverside property in New Orleans is being organized by UNITE HERE.

Much like New Orleans Cab Drivers for Justice AFSCME Local 234, these newly unionized hospitality workers hope to create a stronger tourism industry and also better their working conditions.

“Just like us cab drivers, hotel and food service workers help keep New Orleans’ tourism industry up and running,” said Delores Montgomery, president of AFSCME Local 234. “Having a union will enable them to fight back against mistreatment and abuse. More and more workers in the tourism industry are joining unions and when we stand together, we’re going to be unstoppable!”

Unlike other U.S. cities with large tourism revenues – such as Chicago, New York and Las Vegas – New Orleans’ union membership in the hospitality industry remains low. The industry stands to benefit if hotel owners respect their employees’ efforts to unionize. 

Lillian Roberts to Retire as DC 37 Executive Director

by Clyde Weiss  |  October 13, 2014

Lillian Roberts to Retire as DC 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts

District Council 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts announced last week she will retire at the end of the year as leader of New York City’s largest public employee union, but plans to continue her storied 60-year-career fighting for workers’ rights as an AFSCME International Vice President.

Roberts, who has served as executive director of DC 37 for 13 years, said in a letter to AFSCME’s Executive Board that she will step down on Dec. 31. The board accepted her recommendation to appoint DC 37 Assoc. Dir. Henry Garrido as executive director of DC 37, also effective December 31.

The board also offered its congratulations for Roberts’ proud history of leadership and dedication to the union and its members.

AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders praised Roberts’ career at AFSCME’s International Convention in Chicago this summer, where he presented the legendary labor leader with the AFSCME Lifetime Achievement Award. In a statement last week, he said:

“I’ve seen firsthand her dedication to members and determination to make sure DC 37 unapologetically represents their interests and perspectives. Sometimes, this meant going up against mayors or other politicians who didn’t respect workers. Other times, it meant creating education programs to assist members in advancing on their jobs. And always, she’s done everything she could to help the women and men of AFSCME find and confidently use – their voices.”

In her letter to the board, Roberts wrote, “It has been a great pleasure to serve the members of DC 37 and to have had the opportunity to lead this Council through some of our most turbulent times in history. Although I am leaving the office of Executive Director, I will hold all of you and the members in my heart. I will always treasure those moments I spent working directly with members. I will always be passionate about this Council, the Executive Board, our members, and, of course, our International Union, AFSCME.”

Roberts also serves as vice president of the New York State AFL-CIO, vice president of the New York City Central Labor Council, and as co-chair of the Municipal Labor Committee. In 2010 she was named one of the 25 most influential black women in business by the Network Journal in 2010.

Growing up in Chicago’s South Side, Roberts became a nurse’s aide. In 1959, she became a shop steward and officer of AFSCME’s District Council 34, and later served as a staff rep for Chicago’s Council 19, where she spearheaded the creation of five locals and led an organizing drive for workers in the city’s four mental hospitals. Moving to New York in 1965, Roberts led the union’s campaign to organize thousands of city hospital workers in 1966.

In her comments to AFSCME Convention delegates upon receiving the AFSCME Lifetime Achievement Award, Roberts observed that, after joining DC 37, “all I cared about was the dignity of work, and I knew that I needed a union so I wouldn’t have to kiss somebody’s behind.” That, she added, “is why we have a union. It’s the only force that you have that gives you the dignity. This union is the greatest in the world. It’s your mouthpiece for justice.”

Click here to hear her convention remarks. Roberts recounted her experiences in the labor movement to National Public Radio’s News & Notes program in 2007. Listen to it here. Read more about Roberts here.

Saunders to CUPE: ‘Your Fights Are Our Fights’

by Clyde Weiss  |  October 10, 2014

Saunders to CUPE: ‘Your Fights Are Our Fights’ CUPE’s Paul Moist joined President Saunders on stage in Toronto.

Donning the T-shirt of our sister union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders this week declared that solidarity between our two unions is critical to win victories against the “anti-worker, anti-union forces” aligned against workers in both nations.

“Your fights are our fights, and our fights are your fights,” President Saunders said in a rousing address at CUPE’s National Sector Council Conference in Toronto on Oct. 7. “Together in solidarity, we will win!”

At AFSCME’s 41st International Convention this summer in Chicago, CUPE Pres. Paul Moist addressed our delegates, declaring his union’s support for AFSCME Michigan Council 25 in its fight against the privatization of water services.  “I’m going to Detroit!” he said, donning an AFSCME T-shirt. “I’m an AFSCME member! We’re going to stand with the workers of Detroit!”

Later, the two union leaders marched with their members over the Ambassador Bridge that connects Detroit and Canada in a demonstration of solidarity. At CUPE’s conference this week, President Saunders noted that it will take that kind of solidarity to defeat corporate-backed interests that want to undermine workers’ rights in both countries.

“Sisters and brothers,” he said, “this is the time we stand up together and say, ‘No more!’ This is the time we say, ‘Things must change!’ This is the time we come together as the labor movement, join hands across our borders and force that change to come.”

Raise a Storm for 10.10 Minimum Wage

by Joye Barksdale  |  October 09, 2014

Raise a Storm for 10.10 Minimum Wage The Democratic Caucus in the House of Representatives designated Oct. 10 as National Minimum Wage Day. .

Question: Besides Friday’s date, what does “10/10” refer to?

Answer: One day soon, if we keep up the fight and take action, it will refer to the new and improved federal minimum wage.

The Democratic Caucus in the House of Representatives designated Oct. 10 as National Minimum Wage Day. Advocates of raising the wage, including AFSCME, are calling on Congress to pass the Minimum Wage Fairness Act this year to give 3.5 million workers a raise.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and was last raised in 2009. Adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage had more purchasing power in 1968 than at any other time.

Earlier this week, the Leadership Conference on Education Fund and the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality issued a report declaring that increasing the wage is a civil rights issue. They made the connection because ending economic equality has always been “a fundamental goal” of the civil rights movement.

Think it’s past time to raise the wage? Take action! You can also join Friday’s Twitter Storm from 10:10 a.m. until 11:10 a.m., Eastern Daylight Time, hashtag #RaiseTheWage.

Ohio Pickets Target Prison Staffing, Safety

by Clyde Weiss  |  October 08, 2014

Ohio Pickets Target Prison Staffing, Safety Corrections officers and other members of Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (OCSEA)/AFSCME Local 11 protest inadequate staffing at overcrowded state prisons, which threaten the safety of workers and the community. (Ana Goodlet)

Chanting "safe prisons now" and "no more cuts," members of Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (OCSEA)/AFSCME Local 11 took to the streets Oct. 6 to shed light on the dangers of understaffing and outsourcing, including security breaches, maggots found in food preparation areas operated by a contractor, and even prison escapes.

The employees of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DR&C), represented by OCSEA, picketed outside the department’s Columbus office to deliver a message: Inadequate staffing and outsourcing to a for-profit food vendor, Aramark, placed workers and the community at risk. Despite having a record number of inmates – more than 50,600 in a system built for 38,579 – the DR&C in recent years shed 400 corrections officer posts, ordered the closure of housing units, and contracted with food service vendor Aramark, whose practices led to maggot infestations, OCSEA officials said.

In April, the state fined Aramark $272,000 for failing to meet staffing requirements, among other violations.

 “We know budgets are about choices, and the choices DR&C made and continues to make despite our warnings, put our security at risk and made our prisons more violent and dangerous places to work," said OCSEA Pres. Christopher Mabe, also an AFSCME International vice president. “We need more security staff, an end to the food service contract and an opportunity to be real partners with DR&C in keeping our prisons safe."

“Taxpayers want to know where their money's going,” added OCSEA Corrections Assembly Pres. Jim Adkins. “Well, here's where it's going: Instead of investing in front line security staff, they've given wardens an average 20 percent raise, added unit managers and lieutenants and created an entire new structure of ‘regional managers’ we've never had before.”

DR&C officials “turned their backs on Ohioans by ignoring the problems of security and making out multiple security breaches to be no big deal,” said Mabe. “But it is a big deal when you find multiple maggot infestations or when 100 Aramark employees are walked out of the prisons in less than a year's time. And it's a big deal when a murderer is housed in a minimum security prison and escapes.”

#TurnOutForWhat? Our Values For A Start.

by Laura Reyes  |  October 07, 2014

#TurnOutForWhat? Our Values For A Start.

We believe that hard work should bring a fair day's pay and some measure of security when we retire. We believe that women and men trying to make ends meet shouldn't have to shoulder a higher tax burden than corporations. We're not heading to the polls to vote specific candidates or a party out of office, but to vote in the fundamental values that make day-to-day living a little easier for most American families.

When we turn out on Nov. 4, we win.

And here at AFSCME, we've recently launched the #TurnOutForWhat campaign on Twitter and Tumblr. People across the country are sharing why they're turning out to the polls on Nov. 4 and they're recruiting others to do the same. It's not just a hashtag; it's a call to action that we will heed on Election Day.

Please read my full entry on The Huffington Post here.

Laura Reyes is Secretary-Treasurer of AFSCME

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